Amman Walks Into a Bar

I am in Amman, Jordan for the inaugural Amman Comedy Festival. A comedy festival in the Middle East?! Who’da thunk it? Well, luckily Dean Obeidallah, an Arab-American comic and good friend who I started in comedy with fifteen years ago, thunked it with some well connected contacts in Jordan.
I am having an incredible experience over here. I am not a particularly well informed individual so I go into most experiences with a relatively blank slate and an open mind. Granted, the Middle East does trigger certain notions, as evidenced by the countless “Be careful! Be safe!” warnings I received from well intentioned friends before my departure, but I really wasn’t concerned for my safety.
I’ve lived in NY my whole life and I’m sure some people think of NY as horribly unsafe and dangerous but I know that’s false, so I happily accepted the invitation to perform on the festival and see another part of the world. Not just another part but a part of the world that Americans are so often programmed to think of as unsafe or, even worse, enemy territory.
This, it turns out, could not be further from the truth. The people have been incredibly welcoming, kind, warm and generous. A city worker from the mayor’s office, Mouayyad, was assigned to me as my personal chaperone. As he said “Mr. Ted, anything you need, please ask me. I am here for you. Whatever you need.”
Today I asked Mouayyad and his driver, Hassan, to please take me to the Dead Sea, about an hour from Amman city center. The three of us embarked on a  bizarre little road trip that I couldn’t have dreamed up in a million years.
It was incredible. It is the lowest elevation in the world and the water has such a high salt content that no marine life can live there. The waters and mud are said to have restorative powers so I took a dip and applied a mud facial. I honestly felt invigorated afterwards, like my skin was smoother and rejuvenated.
Mouayyad tried to tell me something about the Dead Sea’s history. I think he was trying to explain something about Sodom and Gommorah but in his broken english it came out “You know men… ummm, gay? Ummm, men fucking men?”
“Yes, yes. Of course.”
I couldn’t really make out what came after that but I’m assuming it couldn’t have been good. Something about “God not being happy”. Probably not pro-gay, I’m guessing. That said, Mouayaad has been a great guy, very gracious and couldn’t be more helpful, aside from his history lessons.
On the way back we got pulled over for speeding by the Jordanian police. Mouayyad and Hassan had to get out of the car and talk to the officer at his car. I was in the back seat and pulled out my iphone to surruptiously take a picture of the proceedings but one of the cops saw me and was not pleased. He started shouting something in arabic and Mouayaad had to calm him down. I thought my iphone might get confiscated but fortunately nothing happened. I smiled stupidly and gave an apologetic nod. But I got my picture, which I will post soon.
The comedy crowds here have been amazing. They are incredibly  grateful that comedians have come from around the world to perform in their city. And, to my surprise and delight, they are wonderfully astute and savvy comedy audiences. They get everything, even the most subtle nuances that I assumed might not go over. Once my Barack joke about “Once you go black…” got a rousing ovation I relaxed and realized “Wow, they got it.” I didn’t even have to finish the sentence.
I have learned this time and time again in my travels but it’s a lesson that apparently needs to be reiterated time and time again; people are people. We share the human condition and we share the same basic wants, needs and feelings. And increasingly, due to the internet, we have a shared frame of reference.
As I stood on stage tonight and looked out at a packed house of hundreds of middle easterners laughing I had a moment of pure love for humanity. I thought to myself “I am standing on stage in a middle eastern country making a roomful of people laugh, smile and feel good”. What an overwhelming feeling of joy and gratitude to be able to do what I do. As I watched the other comedians, too, I was so proud to be one of the very first selected to bring standup comedy to Amman, Jordan. There has been such a special, vibrant energy surrounding the entire proceedings.
We met the crowd afterward to meet and greet, take pictures and sign autographs. The genuine outpouring of love and appreciation was so beautiful. It is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.
As I sit in a hotel room on the other side of the world from my home; on foreign soil-”enemy soil” we americans are often led to believe- I give thanks. I have never felt more loved, appreciated, more at home, than I did before a crowd of middle easterners who were so excited to watch live standup comedy for the very first time in their beautiful city of Amman, Jordan.
Salam a Lakem, Amman!